NEW YORK (AFP) - Raf Simons, considered one of the finest designers of his generation, made his debut for Calvin Klein on Friday (Feb 10), offering an homage to America in one of the most eagerly awaited New York shows in years.
A-listers Gwyneth Paltrow, Oscar-nominated British actress Naomie Harris, former Calvin Klein model Brooke Shields and Sarah Jessica Parker, perhaps the American actress who more than any other personifies fashion in New York, were among those sitting in the front row.
Other guests were film director Sofia Coppola and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour at the label's Garment District headquarters, which reportedly archives every Calvin Klein item ever designed.
The 49-year-old former creative director for Christian Dior sent out men's and women's wear in what the programme notes called an homage to America inspired by American artist Sterling Ruby.
Simons, a Belgian with roots firmly in Europe, offered an outsider's take on the diversity and myriad influences that make up the contemporary United States as part of his mission to revive and re-imagine the iconic New York label best known for its racy underwear ads decades ago.
There was sharp suiting, denim, bat-wing style shoes for women, plastic coated outerwear and dresses finished with feathers, an array of workwear, western wear and handcrafted quilting.
It closed with David Bowie's track This Is Not America - hard not to see as throwing shade on President Donald Trump and his administration's assault on immigration.
It was a look that channelled modern urban America, not the blue collar America that voted for Trump.
"All these different people with different styles and dress codes. It's the future, the past, Art Deco, the city, the American West," wrote Simons in the programme notes.
"Not one era, not one thing, not one look. It is the coming together of different characters and different individuals, just like America itself. It is the unique beauty and emotion of America."
Simons emerged at the end to wave to the packed crowd with Pieter Mulier, his long-term colleague and former right-hand man at Dior, before being mobbed backstage by well-wishers.
From the ceiling hung distressed fabrics and balls of wool, in what the programme notes said was an artwork by Ruby, who was born on a US military base in Germany to a Dutch mother and American father, and who today lives and works in Los Angeles.
Ruby has cited, among his influences, hip-hop, urban gangs, graffiti, prisons, globalisation, violence, art history, consumption and waste, "together with American domination and decline."
His brief for the installation was to imagine a work appropriate for Calvin Klein. He imagined America, the programme said.
The label announced Simons' appointment in August 2016 as its new chief creative officer responsible for the creative strategy of the entire brand, uniting all its clothing, underwear and jeans under one vision as it seeks to grow to US$10 billion (S$14 billion) in global retail sales.
Simons, who also runs his eponymous label, spent more than three years at the helm of Dior before quitting in 2015.
"Not since Mr Klein himself was at the company has it been led by one creative visionary, and I am confident that this decision will drive the Calvin Klein brand and have a significant impact," said CEO Steve Shiffman at the time.
"I really liked it," Imran Amed, founder of the London-based Business of Fashion website, told AFP after the show.
"It's quite a departure. When you change creative directors, part of the reason you do that is to get a new energy, a new direction, and I think they very successfully achieved that," he added.
The Calvin Klein invitation included the white bandanas being promoted by the website in order to promote diversity and tolerance in the wake of Trump's election and inflammatory first three weeks in office.
Simons is perhaps best known for stabilising Dior after British designer John Galliano was fired in 2012 following an outcry over anti-Semitic insults he made in a Paris bar that were caught on camera.
One of his most famous dresses was the pale pink bulb-skirted gown worn by Jennifer Lawrence to the 2013 Academy Awards when she famously tripped before collecting her first Oscar for best actress.